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How to Put a Harness on a Dog

Westie laying down comfortably with harness
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Getting your pup outfitted in a dog harness usually involves a few challenges. First, you have to figure out which option, out of dozens of choices, is the best choice for your dog. Then, after you’ve made your selection, you have to refine the fit. And finally, you have to convince your dog to stand still while you put it on.

While the initial steps of choosing and using a harness might feel daunting, the payoffs are worth it. Dog harnesses can help make walks a pleasant, pain-free experience for dogs of all ages and sizes.

Let’s walk through tips for picking out the right harness for your dog, how to put a harness on a dog, and advice for making sure you have the perfect fit.

Dog Harness Benefits

Dog lying in grass with harness on

A collar is a fine choice for dogs that walk politely on leash without pulling. However, dogs that are tough to control on walks or at risk for injury due to their shape or size can benefit from wearing a comfortable harness instead.

A harness can prevent health concerns for dogs with potential breathing issues, like brachycephalic breeds such as French Bulldogs or Pugs, since any leash tension is distributed instead of concentrated around the dog’s neck.

Plus, a harness designed specifically to reduce pulling can make walks more manageable for people with strong dogs.

Types of Dog Harnesses

Owner setting a harness on a dog

Because there are so many options, trying to pick the right type of harness for your dog can feel overwhelming, but choosing the best harness for your dog comes down to a few factors. Things you should consider when choosing a type of harness include:

The desired outcome. Do you want to decrease pulling? Or are simply concerned with your dog’s comfort? A harness doesn’t automatically reduce pulling, which means you may need a no-pull dog harness.

Your dog’s body type. If you have a barrel-chested breed, some harness options might not fit.

Your dog’s size and handling tolerance. Some dogs don’t appreciate the type of touching required to put on a step-in harness or a snug-fitting, over-the-head harness.

Once you’ve determined your dog walking needs you can begin to refine your dog harness choices:

No-Pull Dog Harness

These types of dog-friendly harnesses are specifically engineered to reduce leash pulling. Most reduce pulling through a combination of gentle pressure points around the legs and the positioning of the rings where the leash attaches.

It’s important to note that some dogs are still able to pull while wearing a no-pull harness, and some learn to outsmart these harnesses as they become familiar with the sensation.

Fashion Dog Harness

If you’ve got a standard size dog that’s a polite leash walker, you can focus on fashion when it comes to selecting a harness. These colorful options can be either over the head or step-in harness styles, and range from traditional ribbon on nylon straps to breathable mesh material. The leash can attach either at the chest or between the shoulder blades. Fashion harnesses are cute, but they don’t prevent pulling.

Special Fit Dog Harness

Pit bull outdoors wearing a harness

Dogs with unique shapes, like barrel-chested breeds (Great Danes and Pit Bulls) and short-legged Dachshunds, can be tougher to fit into traditional harnesses. Some options might be perfect around the waist but too tight in the chest area, and some slip-on options might not even fit over the dog’s head. Harnesses built with specific breeds in mind can accommodate their unique shapes.

Supportive Dog Harness

Senior dogs or dogs recovering from surgery might need extra help navigating stairs or going outside for a potty break and a supportive rehabilitation-style harness can make the job easier for both ends of the leash. These harnesses support and stabilize the dog’s front end in a way that’s comfortable for the dog and ergonomic for the pet parent.

Dual Purpose

Some harnesses can function as both a safe car restraint and a walking harness once you arrive at your destination. While many regular harnesses can be modified for use in the car, seat-belt type harnesses are safer because they’re crash-tested and have metal buckles to keep from breaking in the case of impact.

How to Measure Your Dog for a Harness

Greyhound looking surprised wearing harness outdoors

Unfortunately, dog harness sizing isn’t universal, which means that one company’s XS could be another company’s M. That’s why it’s important to note the manufacturer’s sizing guide and fit suggestions when determining how to measure for a dog harness. The primary measurement most dog body harness manufacturers require is your dog’s girth, or the circumference at the widest part of the ribcage.

To determine your dog’s girth, wrap measuring tape or string around your dog’s body an inch or so behind the front legs. It should be flush but not tight. If using a string, compare the string to a ruler to get the circumference.

Some harness sizing also requires a lower neck measurement, which is the thickest part of your dog’s neck, just above the shoulders. Place the measuring tape at the base of your dog’s neck so that it’s snug but not too tight.

Harnesses with a chest strap might also take your dog’s chest width in account. You can determine your dog’s width by placing the measuring tape across the front of your dog’s mid-chest and over the breastbone, ending at about an inch behind each leg.

Finally, some harnesses also count your dog’s weight for a perfect fit. You can check your last veterinary record, or pick up your dog and step on the scale together, then subtract your weight from the total.

How Should a Dog Harness Fit?

Happy dog wearing harness in a beautiful landscape

Comfort is key when it comes to checking the fit of a harness on your dog. Once you’ve put it on, confirm that the harness doesn’t chafe or rub your dog’s skin as he walks, particularly under the front legs in the “armpit” area. Watch for buckles that sit in potentially uncomfortable spots and leg holes and necklines that might be too snug.

The dog harness should be loose enough that you can slip two fingers under it, but not so loose that your dog can accidentally wiggle or slip out of it. Your dog might be able to reverse out the back of the harness or step through the front of it if the fit is off, so attach the leash to it and practice walking in your house to ensure there are no surprise escape points.

As you perfect the fit, adjust one strap at a time until the harness sits evenly and comfortably on your dog’s body.

How to Put on a Dog Harness

Owner walking dog on a harness

No matter what type of harness you select, putting it on your dog requires a little bit of time and effort. Here are some tips for making the experience stress-free for your pup.

Get Your Dog Used to the Harness

Give your dog an opportunity to examine any harness before you try to put it on him. Praise him for sniffing it and give him small treats to keep the introduction positive.

Work through any of your dog’s handling sensitivities before using a harness to prevent it from becoming an unpleasant task.

How to Put on a Mesh Dog Harness (Fashion Harness)

Getting a dog used to wearing a fashion harness

Step 1: To put on a mesh dog harness, hold a treat on the opposite side of the harness so that your dog has to put his head through the neck opening in order to grab it.

Step 2: Slip the harness over your dog’s head until it’s sitting on his shoulders and give him another goody.

Step 3: You can either gently lift your dog’s paw to place it into the first leg hole, or you can slide the strap out of the stabilizer piece in the center and simply loop the strap around your dog’s body and close the buckle. (Some people find it difficult to re-thread the strap once it’s on the dog’s body.)

Step 4: Don’t forget to occasionally check the belly strap to ensure weight gain or loss hasn’t changed the fit.

How to Put on a No-Pull Dog Harness

No pull harness stages of putting on a dog

A no-pull harness requires a little more effort to ensure a perfect fit. Most no-pull harness options like the Easy Walk Harness have multiple adjustment points that can be challenging to refine.

Step 1: Approximate your dog’s size first, before you try to put the harness on. Get the harness and straps close to your dog’s measurements.

Step 2: Once the straps are close to your dog’s size, unclip the silver belly strap and gently slide the already buckled chest and shoulder strap over your dog’s head.

Step 3: Pass the belly strap behind your dog’s front legs and buckle it.

Step 4: Fine-tune the fit so that the belly strap doesn’t rub behind your dog’s legs (particularly the armpit area) and the chest strap is straight across your dog’s chest without sagging.

How to Put a Harness on a Small Dog or a Puppy

Harness on a small puppy

The mechanics of introducing and fitting a harness are the same, no matter the size or age of a dog. However, an excitable wiggly puppy might nip at the straps as you try to adjust them, so give your pup something to focus on while you finalize the fit, like a bone or a busy toy.

Let your puppy get used to the sensation of the harness around the house before you head out for your first walk.

If you have a small dog, it can help to place your pup on a table or stair landing when putting on and fitting a harness to make sure you can see all of the components and ensure you have the proper fit.

Harnessed and Happy

Happy jack russell dog wearing harness

Once you’ve selected the right harness for the dog and checked the fit, you and your pup can hit the trails safely and comfortably!